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I saw the face of God in a young homeless man in Detroit City last Saturday afternoon. He was sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building. The concrete was blazing hot, even in the shade. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort he felt while dressed in fatigue pants and a white cotton shirt.
We made eye contact and said hello to one another. With a smile shared, I knew he was a good man. I was entranced by his features almost immediately. His face was young but hardened by life. His eyes were exquisite in their beauty. Arms, sinewy and covered with tats. Hands with long fingers should have been trained to tickle the ivories in a jazz joint.
I turned my face to the right and looked at the remnants of an abandoned building.
“They really should tear that down,” he said.
“Why hon? It’s a part of history, just like all of the surrounding buildings are,” I said.
“I guess you’re right.”
My reply was cut short by a mouthy and street smart, yet delicate woman that spoke rudely to the young vet.
“Get a job you fucking faggot,” she yelled at the homeless man.
“Hey Gwen,” he said back to her.
We laughed, even though I cringed when Gwen called the vet that word, faggot. That’s one I will never, ever say out loud.
Roger and I continued to enjoy the festivities before the Jimmy Buffett concert at Comerica Park. We laughed at all the drunk people, and how folks were dressed. So many men wore grass skirts and coconut bras. As for some of the women, I wondered if they’d checked a mirror before they left the house. I felt bad for them, really I did.
We sat in our seats as the sun slipped behind the metal girders at the highest point of the stadium. The breeze began to dry my clammy skin. Jimmy began to sing about Caribbean Islands, but my mind went back to the young man sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building.
We left the concert early. Can you believe it? We paid over $100.00 for each ticket, but we left early!
“Do you want to go home?”, Rog inquired.
“No, I’d rather sit at the bar at Cheli’s and listen to the music,” I retorted.
What I really wanted to do was go back and find the man that I had talked to earlier in the day. I wanted to know his story. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t brought a pen or paper with me.
“Can we go look for that guy?”, I asked as we walked back to the car.
“Really Renee?”, Rog sighed.
“He won’t be there.”
“Yeah, he will.”
In my heart, I believed he would be. See, he was my glimpse of God for that day. I knew he’d be there. We drove past the doorway and there he sat. I pulled my unopened water bottle from the car cup holder. Unfortunately, it was all I had to offer him. Roger barely had the car in park, before I dashed out of the car.
I walked up to the young man and he eyed me cautiously. Without hesitation I sat down next to him and handed him the water bottle.
“Hi, I saw you earlier today.” I smiled as I spoke to him, “We discussed the building that should be demolished.”
“Oh yeah.” He shook my hand. “Hi, again.”
“I brought you a water. Unfortunately, it’s all of I’ve got to give you today.”
“Thank you. I’m parched.”
He flicked his cigarette out and grabbed the water. I swear he drank it in one gulp. I briefly told him my story, that I wanted to tell his. Of course, I was traveling light that day. I had no paper or pen. There we sat, me in a dress and *Curt in fatigues on dirty concrete. He let his words flow and I slowed my ADHD brain down so I could retain every word he said.
Originally from Michigan, he shuffled back and forth from the Mitten to Tennessee when he was a kid. At the tender age of 18, he signed up for the Army. The young man served in Fallujah in ’05 and ’09 and came home with nothing. Once discharged from the service, he went to live with his dad.
Curt’s father died last August. The cause of death left a mystery to me. He left that home and with his meager savings bought himself a house in the D. It burned down, taking all of his possessions with it. With no homeowner’s insurance he was fucked. Curt took what he had left and lived out of a duffel bag.
The embarrassment of his living situation, deters him from telling his grandparents. Curt’s eyes showed sorrow as he spoke sweetly of them. I asked if he wanted me to call and tell them. He shook his head no, despondently. I turned my face from his so he wouldn’t see me cry.
We talked more about VA Hospitals and how he had been stabbed at the one in Detroit. My heart lurched when he showed me the scars. I told him to get to the one in Ann Arbor. He assured me that he had an appointment next week that he wasn’t about to miss.
I wanted to sit there all night and talk to him. I wanted to give him more than a bottle of water. I wanted to pray with him. I wanted to give him the price of my concert ticket. I wanted to give him back his youth. I wanted to drive him to a homeless shelter. I wanted to give him some kind of fucking relief.
“Curt I have to go, but I’ll come back.” I told him. “Are you usually sitting on this stoop?”
“It’s okay Renee,” he replied. “I’m only here during big events. I’m usually outside the MGM Grand Casino.”
“Do you have a phone? Can I call you?”
“Yes I do, but I ran out of minutes. Try me in a couple of days though.”
I saved his number in my phone.
Gripping Curt’s shoulder I said, “Thank you so much for your service, you gave us everything including your youth.”
His eyes misted over, and he whispered, “you’re welcome. See you soon Renee. Thanks for your time and the water.”
As I stepped away from my new friend, I wondered where the hell Roger was. I exited the car so quickly he hadn’t even found a place to park. I looked to my left and saw him wave. I walked the few feet to the car and as I opened the door, welcomed the coolness of the air conditioned interior. I thanked Rog for driving me over to meet the young man I had talked to earlier in the day.
The ride home was quiet. I thought hard on my conversation with Curt. I was so glad I went back to talk to him. I’ll try to call him in a couple of days. I’ll be very sure to go see him in a couple of weeks. I promised him I would. He was my glimpse at God that day. I’m sure he will be again.
*’Curt’ asked me not to use his real name, but I’m not above telling you where he frequently panhandles. If you see him, give him a little something.